A Brief History
The year is 2012. The Porsche 911 Turbo S was the fastest 0-60 car put out that year with a time of just 2.7 seconds. However, the brand-spanking new Tesla Model S from the young, niche carmaker clocked in at 3.9 seconds.
Not quite an upset if you’re just looking at the numbers, but don’t forget that the Model S is much heavier than the 911, over 1,100 pounds heavier. The Tesla also only had one motor in the rear wheels as apparently all wheel drive hadn’t been invented yet. Oh, and did we mention this was Tesla’s first attempt at building a car?
How in the world does a start up vehicle manufacturer create a vehicle that not only costs in the same ballpark as a Mercedes CLS63 AMG but can perform just as well with an additional 500 pounds of weight?
That’s right, math, science, and witches.
Sure, there were a bunch of engineers who helped do some stuff, but it doesn’t hurt having a wicked smart, time-traveling wizard as your CEO.
Advantage One: Simplicity
Take out your phone and set it down on the table. Now imagine four wheels and a cabin attached to it, that is basically today’s electric vehicles, or at least those with a similar layout to Tesla and GM.
The majority of your phone’s mass is battery, just as the majority of an electric vehicle’s mass is battery.
Most things that require energy to move under their own power have a significant amount of their mass set aside for whatever fuel they use. In comparison, the engine or processor needed to turn that energy into kinetic or digital output is relatively small.
For electric vehicles this “processor” tends to be quite small and simple, compared to the internal combustion engines it seeks to replace. Electric vehicles have 90% fewer moving parts than ICE vehicles, and this happens to be the first inherent advantage. Less moving parts means less that could go wrong. Smaller motors mean more space for people and luggage.
Advantage Two: Instant Torque
Electric motors at their core are simpler and more efficient than their ICE counterparts. Which is good because the energy density of lithium-ion batteries is absolute crap compared to that of good-ole gasoline. Unfortunately, this does mean more batteries and more weight, but apparently electricity doesn’t give a flying flip about gravity or Newton’s laws of motion. This brings us to the second inherent advantage: instant torque.
The reason for this instant torque is due in part to the simplicity of the electric motor, but mostly how electric motors work and have worked for quite some time. When current is sent to an electric motor, either from a battery or other source, the current cycles magnetic poles to turn a shaft which drives the wheels. The more current, the faster the cycles, the more torque, and all of it is available instantaneously.
Advantage Three: Efficiency
Compare that to an internal combustion engine where fuel is sprayed into a cylinder, compressed with air by a vertical hammer, explodes which pushes the hammer back down, and that hammer turns a crankshaft which goes to the gears, and eventually the wheels. Sound complicated? That’s because compared to an electric motor it certainly is. All of this complexity means that an internal combustion engine is very energy inefficient.
Part of that inefficiency is because of the need to change gears, which is how the engine attempts to maintain peak efficiency in order to run. This is due to the fact that an engine has to get up to a certain number of revolutions to even perform its function.
Electric motors don’t have this problem, which is why they don’t need a gearbox. No gearbox and an efficient engine means more torque and faster acceleration. Sure, we won’t see a Tesla Model S complete the 24 hours of Le Mans anytime soon due to range and refueling issues, but all of that battery weight does offer another inherent advantage: safety.
Advantage Four: Safety
When laid out like a skateboard with the battery under the floorboard, similar to the Tesla platform and GM’s Ultium platform, battery cells help keep the majority of the vehicle mass close to the ground and centered under the cabin which significantly lowers rollover risk unless you’re Richard Hammond.
The conglomerate of battery cells can also be reinforced to act as an additional support which creates overall rigidity and helps keep kinetic energy from entering the cabin. Also, while there was negative press for a while about Model S fires, thanks to our completely unbiased media, it turns out that batteries burn much more slowly than an explosive liquid fuel thus allowing occupants to exit safely, and much of the time the fire never reaches the cabin at all. Let’s not forget about the Ford Pinto.
Finally, because there is no ICE in an electric vehicle, the front engine bay can be converted to storage and reinforced with injury-reducing hardware. There’s a reason Tesla’s get a top safety rating year after year.
There You Have It, Folks
Right, so in review, electric vehicles are inherently better due to the physics of the electric motor which provides simplicity and performance while taking up less space. Instant torque helps accelerate these vehicles very quickly and efficiently. This efficiency is also what allows battery electric vehicles to do more with a less energy dense material. The additional space can be used to add more safety features, and not to mention that the fuel itself is safer and can be used to increase the structural rigidity of the vehicle. At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue with math, science, and magic.